A former Pensacola teacher who pleaded guilty last year to an array of sex offenses involving students begged the judge on Wednesday to consider castration rather than sentence him to prison.


Mark Lua, 32, made the unusual request to Circuit Court Judge Thomas Dannheisser at his sentencing hearing Wednesday morning.


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"My actions were despicable to say the least," Lua said. "I do believe that punishment is necessary, and I am requesting chemical castration not only as a punishment but as an act of solidarity to show how sorry I am for everything. If your honor is so inclined, I am even willing to undergo physical castration if that way I can stay home and raise my daughter."


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Dannheisser did not respond to Lua's request and instead sentenced him to 12 years in state prison, followed by 15 years of probation.


Lua, a former English teacher at Booker T. Washington High School, accepted a plea bargain in October 2019, pleading guilty to charges of promoting a sexual performance by a child, unlawful sexual activity with minors and two counts of unlawful sexual activity with minors.


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"He seemed to seek out girls that came from unstable or troubled homes," Assistant State Attorney Erin Ambrose said in court Wednesday. "He manipulated them, and he betrayed them because he was a teacher."


Lua was arrested three separate times last year after allegations arose that he coerced a student into sending him an inappropriate video, that he had sex with an underage student and that he had sexually assaulted an 18-year-old former student.


The allegations against him resulted in five criminal cases based on the claims of four victims.


"Part of the plea bargain was that he would plead down to the most serious charge related to each victim," Ambrose told the News Journal. "Two of the five cases are being dismissed based on evidentiary issues and (one of the victim’s) specific request that the cases not go forward."


Lua's first arrest was Jan. 17, 2019, after a school resource officer received a tip that Lua was having inappropriate communications with minors. Lua later admitted to using a fictitious Instagram account to solicit juveniles for sex.


He was arrested for a second time on Jan. 30, 2019, after a juvenile student told authorities that he had sex with her at his home. His third arrest was Feb. 6, 2019, after an adult former student of Lua's accused him of sexually assaulting her.


At Wednesday's sentencing hearing, Lua told the court he suffered from a genetic disorder called neurofibromatosis that has caused numerous painful, tumorous growths on his skin since the age of 14. Lua said he was suffering from frequent panic attacks around the time of his crimes because of fears and concerns about the disease.


"If I'm with my family or when I might sit down and read a book, I think about the tumors, and I think 'Oh my God, this might be my last day on earth," he said.


However, Ambrose dismissed that idea in court.


"This condition did not seem to debilitate him while he was trolling the halls, looking for students to have sex with," the prosecutor said.


Colin Warren-Hicks can be reached at colinwarrenhicks@pnj.com or 850-435-8680.